It was a few years ago when my work colleague Jennifer and I drove to
the city for an important meeting with some clients. We'd decided
beforehand that she'd drive her own car, giving me the opportunity to
read a financial report I needed for the meeting.
On the way back home Jennifer decided we stop at a cafe for some
refreshments. She knew that this place served every kind of coffee you
could wish for, and of course, she was right.
It was mid-afternoon when we set off again on the way home, Jennifer in
the driving seat, and I sitting beside her making notes about the
meeting and every so often seeking her advice and opinions on financial
matters. She was a keen accountant equal to no one, so her views were
An hour into the journey home we met a delay on the highway. All three
lanes were full of cars as we slowed down to a snail's pace. Pretty soon
we stopped in what turned out to be the longest car park I'd ever seen.
Ahead of us, for as far as we could see, there were stopped cars in all
three lanes. Behind us, within minutes, a longer queue of parked cars
developed into eternity.
Every so often, we moved forward a few yards and stopped again. There'd
probably been an accident ahead, or perhaps road works. There was no way
of knowing. We were travelling at about 5 miles an hour if not slower.
And that's when the coffee came into play!
I felt I needed to go to the men's room; but unfortunately Jennifer's
car did not have such a facility. At first I put up with the slight
discomfort which, with every passing minute, grew into ... a more
"Why are you fidgeting in your seat?" she asked me.
Embarrassingly, I told her. She sympathised by hoping we'd soon be out of this slow traffic.
Fifteen minutes later I became desperate. We'd been at a standstill for quite a while with cars parked all around us.
Jennifer said she had an idea. She got out of the car, opened the boot, and came back holding a small potty in her hand.
"We always keep this in the car for my young son," she said, "perhaps
you could use it and then discreetly empty it on the road."
"What?" I asked in a panic, "I couldn't possibly ... besides, it's too small."
"I'm not asking you to place it on the ground and stand on the seat
aiming at it!" she said irritably, "just do it sitting down."
"With you here beside me watching me? It's too embarrassing ... " I replied crossing my legs together.
"Forget it ..." she said with gritted teeth as she drove forward a few
yards and put the brakes on suddenly turning my pronounced pain into
"What I meant ..." I said soothingly, "the potty is too small for me to use fully ..."
"Do it in stages ..." she replied increasing her level of irritability.
"I can't just turn it on and off like a faucet," I pleaded sheepishly.
And that's when I realised the reason for her uncharacteristic bad temper.
"And I can't exactly lift my dress up, pull down my underpants, and sit on the potty inside the car,
can I?" she hissed under her breath, "or would you prefer me to sit on
the potty in full view in the middle of the road? Besides ... what exactly have you got to hide? It's tiny size?"
She was obviously in the same coffee predicament as myself.
We drove silently for about twenty minutes when we eventually reached an
exit on the highway. As soon as we left the highway I asked her to stop
by some woodland and I ran behind a tree and some bushes to commune
Jennifer, on the other hand, was much more of a lady than I ever was, or will be. She got out of the car and asked me to drive.
I sped to the nearest diner a mile or so ahead where we welcomed a much
earned comfort break; and then we sat down and enjoyed their variety of
A psychiatrist friend of mine went to see a psychiatrist. Now that is not the same as a doctor seeing a doctor. When a doctor is not well, he goes to see another doctor and explains the symptoms and the diagnosis he arrived at. Then he asks the other doctor if he agrees and whether a specialist's opinion is in order.
Not so with psychiatrists. With them it is all in the mind. As someone once said: If someone thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist he should have his head examined.
Anyway, this psychiatrist friend of mine went to see a psychiatrist. As he entered his insulting room he said, "Help me doctor. People keep ignoring me."
The insulting psychiatrist said, "Who said that?"
"Me," replied the first psychiatrist seeking an opinion, "I said people keep ignoring me and my psychiatrist advice. What should I do?"
"Join them," said the second psychiatrist.
"Is that really your advice?" asked my friend. "To let people ignore me?"
"Who said that?" said the insulting psychiatrist.
"Me ... I just said it," replied my friend.
"Oh do forgive me," said the other psychiatrist, "I have lost my hearing aid and I can't hear you properly."
"Let me help you find it," said my friend helpfully.
"Oh ... thank you. I have looked here everywhere and could not find it!"
"When and where did you last remember seeing it ... or hearing it?" asked my friend.
"Oh ... it was at home this morning. I must have lost it there!"
"You lost it at home?" asked my friend, "why did you search for it here then?"
"Oh ... the lighting in my insulting room is much better than at home. So I thought I'm more likely to find it here!"
"But shouldn't you be looking at home?" insisted my friend.
"Not really," replied the second psychiatrist, "I know exactly where it went. It fell in my corn flakes this morning and I must have swallowed it!"
"You swallowed your hearing aid?" repeated my friend.
"Yes I did ..." replied the other psychiatrist, "now I hear everything as if it was faint and coming from within a cave. And whenever I break wind I answer myself!"
"So you can still hear with the hearing aid within you?" asked my friend.
"That's right," said the other psychiatrist, "what do you say to that?"
"This too shall pass!" replied my friend.
"I hope so," said the other psychiatrist, "in the meantime I have to ask people to talk to me through my navel! Now what can I do for you?"
"Oh ... nothing," said my friend, "I've just been healed. You are the first person not to ignore me and listen!"
"Who said that?" asked the insulting psychiatrist.
Psychiatrist: Hello Mrs Stevens ... how may I help you?
Mrs Stevens: Oh Hallo ... you remember I came to see you last week ...
Psychiatrist: Yes ... I do recall ... continue ...
Mrs Stevens: I explained that I was afraid to go to sleep because of monsters under the bed ... there were monsters under the bed ...
Psychiatrist: Yes ... yes ... I do recall ... please continue ...
Mrs Stevens: And you advised me to cut the legs off the bed ...
Psychiatrist: ... and did that work?
Mrs Stevens: No ... it didn't ... now I am afraid of squashed monsters under the bed.
Psychiatrist: Squashed monsters?
Mrs Stevens: Yes ... they are squashed under the bed with no legs ... I am afraid they might slip out and get me ...
Psychiatrist: Please calm down Mrs Stevens ... there are no squashed monsters under your bed ... there are no such things as monsters ...
Mrs Stevens: Why did you get me to cut the legs off my bed then?
Psychiatrist: ... because ... because .... ehm ...
Mrs Stevens: Ah ... got you there didn't I? You were just humouring me ...
Psychiatrist: No Mrs Stevens ... look ... let's consider this. Is it possible that these monsters are a manifestation of your many fears and worries?
Mrs Stevens: What do you mean?
Psychiatrist: You know ... many people have various fears. The fear of getting old for instance. Of having wrinkles. The fear of not looking as youthful and beautiful as in one's youth. The fear of not being loved. The fear of ...
Mrs Stevens: All right ... all right wise guy ... what's this leading to?
Psychiatrist: Well ... is it possible that you have some such worries? I mean ... you are young and beautiful and desirable, of course. So it wouldn't be that. But is there another fear or worry on your mind?
Mrs Stevens: You mean ... if I conquer my fears then all would be well?
Psychiatrist: Precisely ...
Mrs Stevens: And I have nothing to fear but fear itself?
Psychiatrist: Exactly so ...
Mrs Stevens: And there is no such thing as monsters?
Psychiatrist: Yes indeed ...
Mrs Stevens: Then if there is no such thing as monsters why are you hiding in the cupboard my little darling monster?
Wherever you turn these days there's somebody trying to save the planet by either re-cycling, or not using plastic, or being eco-friendly in some way or another. I guess it's OK if it makes them feel good and they don't interfere with my life.
The latest target to attack, I understand, are straws. You know, those long tubes you use to suck drinks from a bottle or milkshakes from a cup. I like it when they make that burping sound at the end when you finish your drink - don't you?
Apparently, the latest type of straws are made of plastic and this is bad for the environment. Millions and millions are used just the once and they end up in the sea and it is bad for the fish because they do not like straws. So I understand.
The previous kind of straws, made of paper, are just as bad because they too end up in the sea and they are bad for the fish because they don't like paper either.
Has anyone thought of taking all the fish out of the sea since they are the common problem here? But I digress.
So the search is on for a more eco-friendly straw.
I read somewhere that a man has invented a straw made of pasta. Basically, it is a long tube made of pasta instead of plastic or paper. I think the man is a Scotsman called Mc Aroni. Anyway, his idea did not catch on because you have first to grow the wheat, turn it to flour, make the pasta straw which is used once and thrown away. This is uneconomical and more wasteful than plastic or paper, since you could use the pasta straws to feed the poor instead.
I have thought hard about this and I think I have come up with an alternative to the straw as we know it.
Make straws out of re-cycled bricks!
It's simple - take a brick, make a hole through it, and you have a straw.
Actually, you make a number of holes through the brick length-wise. Say four rows of six holes each. Then cut the brick length-wise and you have twenty-four tubes made of brick.
They would be the right length to use in bottles and cups. They can be cleaned and re-cycled. They are too heavy to end up in the sea, and if they did they would be an amusing addition to all the rocks already there.
The brick straw made of re-cycled bricks can itself be re-cycled.
I wrote to a number of investors for financial backing to launch this new invention, but none have replied.
If any of you reading this wish to invest please send me an e-mail.
I would have liked to have given you my home address to write to but, sadly, I have no home. All the bricks in my house have been made into straws.
Psychiatrist: Do come in Mr Smythe. Nice to meet you. Please have a seat.
Smythe: May I use your toilet first please?
Psychiatrist: There is no need to. I have just used it a moment ago!
Smythe: No ... ehm ... I mean I need to use the toilet.
Psychiatrist: Oh yes of course ... it's down the corridor ... I'll wait here ... the clock is ticking though ...
Psychiatrist: That was four minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Now lie on the couch and tell me what's the problem.
Smythe: Well it's about my mother ...
Psychiatrist: Yes, it always is. If it is not one thing it is the mother ... according to Freud. Or was it Jung? Or someone else I forgot his name ... anyway ... continue ...
Smythe: I live with my mother. Partly because I cannot afford a place of my own, and partly because she is old and I am concerned about leaving her alone for long.
Psychiatrist: I understand ... continue ...
Smythe: The problem is that she is so demanding. As soon as I get home from work ... I work about ten minutes away from home ... I am an accountant ...
Psychiatrist: How boring ... continue ...
Smythe: As soon as I get home she asks me for a cup of tea. Then I prepare her supper. Then she asks for a blanket to cover her because she is cold. Then she asks me to turn on the TV. Then ...
Psychiatrist: Is this leading anywhere? She is demanding ... I get it ... continue ...
Smythe: And she is always complaining ... the tea is too hot ... too cold ... the food is too salty ... the TV is not loud enough ... do we have to watch football? Downton Abbey is on the other channel ...
Psychiatrist: I must admit, Downton Abbey is better ... but I digress ... continue ...
Smythe: And she is so protective ... wear a pullover ...it's cold outside ... have you got a packed lunch for work ... take your umbrella with you ... don't be too late home ...
Psychiatrist: She obviously worries about you ... continue ...
Smythe: Yes ... but it is too obsessive ... she phones me at work every half-hour to check I am OK ... I told her I was OK half-an-hour ago ... she says she worries in case I get run over by a bus ... I told her we don't have buses running through the office ... she says I am impertinent ...
Psychiatrist: I think it is sweet that she worries about you ... I suggest you phone her every half-hour or so to check she is OK ... make sure she did not slide off her armchair and is lying on the floor ... there's quite a draught comes in from under the doors you know ... make sure her hearing aid is working properly ... ask her if she needs anything ... you know ... just be a good son to her ... she loves you and you should love her back even more ... now continue ...
Smythe: Well ... that's it really ...
Psychiatrist: Good ... our time is up ... I'll send you the invoice in due course ... being an accountant I expect you to pay it promptly ... now be careful as you leave ... hold on to the banister as you get down the stairs in case you fall ... switch the stair lights on ... don't forget your umbrella in case it rains ... have you got any money for the bus? I'll loan you some ... no interest ... if you want ...
Smythe: No dad ... I have money ... thank you ... see you at home tonight ...
In a confused and perhaps at times desperate world, it is not surprising that many Christians don't know how, and maybe disagree on how, to pray.
We all know how Jesus taught us to pray. But even that prayer has over the years been superseded and supplemented by a lot of other prayers, pleadings and hymns to give God and all His Saints an almighty headache. Different people prefer different ways to pray. Some say the Lord's Prayer and believe that it is enough. Others add other prayers they have learnt when young or in church. Others prefer to just talk to God, and maybe give Him advice on what He should do, rather than spend some quiet time listening to His voice.
Prayer seems to have become like a product we choose from the supermarket with each person having their favourite style or brand.
As a Catholic I am not a stranger to the many people who repeat the Rosary over and over again, or recite many litanies and novenas to the Saints, or have many prayers addressed to favourite Saints for special favours and/or miracles.
I can't help wondering. Is that what God really wants?
Does He really want us to repeat prayers that we have learn by heart over and again?
Does He want us to plead over and over again please ... please ... pretty please ... with sugar on top.
Does He want us to promise that if He does what we ask we will light a candle in church?
Does God really want or care for our candles? Or our offerings of more prayers or donations to this or that charity if only He does as we ask?
God cannot be bought.
He does not need our bribes in order to respond to our prayers. Neither does He want us to beg like dogs for His favours.
We are told, and I believe, that He is a loving God. A Creator and a Father, as Jesus describes Him often.
Jesus spoke about the love of a father towards His children when He said, "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? So
if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how
much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who
ask Him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
What Christ is teaching here is that God, our loving Father, knows what we need and will supply our needs in good time. Including His Holy Spirit - if we ask.
How we pray is important. I personally don't believe in repetitious prayers like the Rosary but accept and respect that some people find comfort in such prayers. Indeed, I have recited the Rosary a few times in the past.
But having said that, I believe the most effective prayer is that of silence. Just sitting there in silence is a prayer in itself. And I don't mean sitting there in front of the TV watching Dowton Abbey or the football! That's not a prayer; it is just watching TV.
Sitting in silence, perhaps thanking God for our lives as it is, however difficult it might be at the moment, is a prayer in itself.
As long as we are honest and express our true feelings, even feelings of apprehension, fear or despair, we should believe that God who knows everything will know what is on our mind without us uttering a word.
PRODIGAL: spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
I guess we all know the parable of the Prodigal Son. A rich man had two sons, the younger one asked his father for his share of the inheritance, took the money and went away to spend it all on wine, women and songs. Personally, I would have chosen chocolate instead of one of those three.
When the money ran out, and there was a famine, the wasteful son came to his senses and returned to his father in repentance.
The father was glad to see him back and had a great feast to celebrate the return of his son.
When the older son found out he was very angry and upset because he had been faithful to his father all along, working 24/7 in the fields, and never got anything as a reward.
Now I suspect that most people, like me, would sympathise with the older brother. After all, the younger one wasted all the money away and here he is, once again, welcomed back to share even more of what is left.
But what is Jesus really trying to teach us in this parable?
He is reminding us once again about God's infinite mercy for us. Time and time again, no matter how much we sin, or how serious a sin, we should never doubt His mercy. Once a sin is repented over, God's love consigns that sin to a place where it should never again hinder our progress towards Him.
God is merciful and He forgives time and again.
Jesus said that He would leave the ninety-nine sheep and go looking for the one that is lost.
"In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent" (Luke 15:7).
In human terms, it is understandable if we feel sorry for the older brother who feels hard done by in this parable. But Jesus here is not talking about money, or inheritance, or fairness.
He is telling us that God is merciful and He forgives. And we should not be jealous if He forgives someone whom we consider not worthy of forgiveness. Rather, we should be glad that one lost soul has been saved and once more returned to the family of God.
As for us, when we have sinned and repented we must be glad of God's mercy and forgiveness. We should consign our regrets, our bitterness, our self-pity and disappointments of ourselves to the past where they belong. And rejoice that we too have been welcomed back like the prodigal son.
In Matthew Chapter 22:1-14 Jesus
tells a parable about a king preparing a wedding feast for his son. He
invites many guests who do not turn up, so eventually, he invites all
the people his servants can find in the streets until the wedding hall
is full of guests.
In this story, the King is God. And
His Son getting married is Jesus; marrying His Church here on earth -
this means everyone, you and I included.
We are all invited to God's Kingdom, but many don't answer the call. Some even respond violently to the invitation by beating and killing the messengers. The King responds accordingly.
the end of this parable there's an intriguing bit. The King enters the
hall full of guests and sees a man not wearing wedding clothes. He is angry with him
and gets him tied up and thrown out into the street.
Now this seems rather harsh treatment for someone not wearing the right clothes. Until we stop and understand Jewish tradition.
was talking to the Jews who understood very well that there are special
clothes to wear at weddings. Almost every family had such special
clothes in case they were invited to a wedding; even the poor would
either have such clothes or borrow some.
No one would dare go to a
wedding without special clothes. Even more important, traditionally the
host of the wedding also provided special garments for those who did not
have any, so they can borrow them for the occasion. So it was more
offensive to the King for this guest to wear no garment.
This guest in the parable just did not bother; he showed disrespect to the King and his son; and was thus thrown out.
I guess we can note the distinction between those invited guests who refused to attend and the one with no special clothing. Those first guests are the people who refuse to accept God and to love and follow Him. The guest with the wrong clothes are the people who half-heartedly accept God as an insurance policy ... just in case ... they do not really believe and follow God. Believers in name only.
But how about us? What are our special clothes for our entry into God's Kingdom in Heaven?
wedding clothes are our good deeds here on earth. Whatever we do for
anyone in need, however small, constitutes our wedding clothes. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40).
is just not enough to spend a lifetime on our knees praying, or going
to church, if our deeds are far from what is expected of us as followers
Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls me Lord
will enter the Kingdom of God, but only those who do what my Father
wants them to do". (Matthew 7:21).
In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells the story of a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out again at 9 o'clock and found some more workers whom he sent to the vineyard. At noon and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon he did the same. And then again at 5 o'clock, he found more idle workers whom he sent to the vineyard.
At the end of the day he asked his manager to pay the last people first. Those that started at 5 o'clock got paid the normal daily wage. Those who started in the morning rubbed their hands with glee expecting more money. But they too got paid the same daily wage. Not surprisingly, they were angry.
What would the Trade Unions say about this if they existed at the time of Jesus? They would probably call a strike, and indeed ask for a wage increase for everyone.
On the face of it, this parable does seem a little unfair. We probably sympathise with those workers who worked all day and got paid the same as the ones who worked for just one hour. But let's consider what Jesus is teaching us here.
The vineyard is of course Paradise. Heaven.
The landowner is God. Only He decides who is to enter Heaven. You and I have no say in the matter.
We may think we know a lot about religion and Christianity but in reality we know nothing. Only God knows what is in the heart and minds of people and only He decides who is to enter Heaven.
Now about the workers who go to the vineyard at different times of the day. The different times represent when certain people get to know God and to follow His word.
Some people get to know God early in their lives. They are the first in the vineyard. They are probably born in a religious family and have been brought up as Christians and keep God's Word throughout their lives.
The others at 9 o'clock, noon and so on get to know and love God later in their lives. Perhaps in their teens, or in adulthood.
The last ones at 5 o'clock are those who get to know God at the end of their lives. Just before they die. They truly repent and ask forgiveness and as they die they go to Heaven.
Now the temptation is to live a "St Augustine" hedonistic lifestyle enjoying all that there is to enjoy in life and then, at the last minute, repent and go to Heaven.
But there is no guarantee that you will get the opportunity to repent before you die, is there? You might die suddenly and then ... bingo ... you're going down with no parachute.
And if you were to repent in the last minute, God who sees deep within your soul, will know whether you have truly and genuinely repented, or whether you are cashing in an insurance policy at the last moment so you can enter Heaven. You can't fool God, you know!
So that's what it's all about this arriving at the vineyard at different times.
And if you are one of those who arrived early, and got to know and love God as a child or when you were young, then your job here on earth is to be God's recruitment officer.
By living the kind of life He would wish you to live you'd be an example that others would admire and wish to emulate. And because of you, more people would arrive at the vineyard, later than you maybe, but they'd arrive all the same.
What an honour for you to serve the Lord in this way.
And one final thought, why be envious of God's generosity? If He chooses someone you do not think worthy to enter Heaven, should you not be glad of a late conversion and one more soul saved? Or would you want that person to be in hell?
What if, when you are in Heaven you meet someone you thought does not merit to be there? What would you do? Object?
What if someone else in Heaven does not think you are worthy to be there?
What you see above is a graph. A mathematician would describe it as a bell curve. The term bell curve
is used to describe a graphical depiction of a normal probability
distribution, whose underlying standard deviations from the median
create the curved bell shape.
I am not a mathematician so I won't describe it as above because I don't understand what it means anyway.
All I would say, looking at the shape of the graph, is that there are a few on the left, rising to quite a lot at the top of the graph and then getting fewer and fewer towards the end.
Apparently, according to mathematicians and statisticians and other clever people, this is a normal distribution of anything you care to count. Whenever we count something, or some event statistically, apparently the curve in the graph is roughly the same - bell shaped. A few at either side and the majority in the middle.
This led me to think ... because my brain works this way. I bet if we were to go out in the streets and ask everyone in the whole world a question the graph would look a bit like this:
We will find a certain number of people who believe in God; even though their belief may range from ardent to lukewarm. And also there will be a number of people who do not believe in God at all, in fact they are so sure of it that they make it their mission in life to convince everyone to believe the same. And the rest, most of them, will be people in the middle who quite frankly don't care.
The ones in the middle, the rest, may call themselves believers, but in name only. They think they believe in something or Someone but cannot quite describe or explain what they believe. They're too busy living life to bother about such minutiae as God. They think He exists but they perceive Him in totally different ways - an energy, nature, or whatever.
Then my train of thoughts led me to ask: Where do you think the devil is hardest at work? Who is he trying to convince that they are wrong?
And then I thought about us Christians. Where exactly are we on this graph. Individually. Each one of us. And what are we doing to teach those known as "the rest" about the existence of a living Creator God? A loving Father.
Individually. Each one of us. Or as a church.
You know ... the time will come when each one of us, individually, will meet God face to face.
Some of us will have spent our lives praying and truly believing, "Thy Will Be Done".
To the others, God will say, "OK ... Thy Will Be Done. Now go to hell."
This discussion is likely to become somewhat tortuous. But please hang
in there. Try to follow my argument and, if you disagree, please write
in and put me right.
We are at this point in time Christians. By whatever means or way we
came to this point, be it cradle Christians, born and raised this way,
or by conversion to Christianity, or whatever other route we took in
life to get to where we are now; we are essentially Christians.
By this we mean basically that we believe in God. We believe that Jesus
is His only Son, born of a virgin as a human here on earth, albeit He
is/was God, He died for us, raised from the dead and went up to Heaven.
And when there He sent us His Holy Spirit. These are the very basics of
Now some of us take these beliefs, put them at the back of our mind, and
get on with our busy lives. Getting to work, raising a family, looking
after our financial affairs, making sure we have enough savings for when
we're ill or for old age; and we live our daily lives, shopping, cooking, taking the trash out every day ... that sort
of thing. Life takes over and, although we believe, we still have to be
realistic and get on with life.
Some of us, however, take our beliefs even more to heart. They are
central to our lives, central to everything we do, they form and guide
our every actions in life, to the point of our very existence; breathing
even. Our beliefs are ourselves. We are our beliefs. We do not spend
time fretting and worrying about the minutiae of life. God exists, He
will take care of us, and of our needs.
Such a path of total unwavering beliefs, admirable and laudable though
it is, is full of dangers and pitfalls in itself. Our total 100%
reliance on our beliefs can in itself, at some point, lead one at times
to question those very beliefs which have for so long shaped and formed
our lives, our very existence, what we are now and what we have become.
We ask ourselves, is this all real? What led me to the point that I
believe what I believe? What evidence is there for it? What proof? I
believe through blind Faith; but what if it's all a fallacy, a myth, a
man-made story and set of rules just to keep society in check. Our basic
beliefs, the existence of an almighty god, having a son of virgin
birth, his death, resurrection and the sending of his spirit are in
That point of questioning to the point of doubts of our very beliefs,
unbelievable as it seems, does occur to many of those who have followed a
hitherto path of unwavering belief.
How is this so?
The devil, who does exist, make no mistake about that, takes our very
unwavering belief as an opportunity to cast doubt and confusion in our
mind. For he it is who, unaware by us, sheds the odd flash of
questioning and uncertainty in our minds. It is he who aims to lead us
astray from our beliefs and faith. After all, what is the point of him
tempting those who don't believe? They are already in his camp. It's the
others, those who believe, that he wants to recruit.
Usually, those who do not believe in God don't have any doubts about
their beliefs. Have you noticed how unbelievers are always certain of
their position? They believe they know for sure that God does not exist
and are eager to prove it to you.
I often wonder about all the Saints we have read about.
Were they all 100% totally dedicated to their beliefs and faith and were
they all totally unwavering throughout their lives?
The answer is no. Most of them, if not all, had their moments of doubts,
their moments of confusion and temptations. But they kept trying,
through prayers, dedication, and perhaps outright stubbornness, they
kept going on in their beliefs despite all the difficulties these gave
rise too. No doubt, they were sinners too. Like you and me. But they
kept on trying.
Despite their failings, their short-comings, and their weaknesses - Saints are sinners who kept on trying.
What is important at one point in time may not be that important at another point in time further down the line.
But at the time, it was very important to you. That is why you argued your case, you took entrenched positions, and you had a strong point of view.
The point was that you were right, and therefore it follows that if you were right then the other person was wrong. And it was your duty to stand up for your rights. It was right that you do so and not walk away and let wrong get away with it.
It was a matter of principle. And where principles are involved it was important that you fight for them.
Eventually, the matter may or may not have been resolved. Both parties may or may not have reconciled or compromised.
It is possible that you both went your separate ways. Perhaps you never spoke to each other ever since. Maybe you have not even met ever since. You both walked away and the issue was left unresolved.
But now, years later, looking back, was it that important after all?
Was it too difficult to resolve? Are you certain you were totally in the right and the other person totally in the wrong? Was it a matter of such importance and a principle worth fighting over to the point where you both lost whatever ground there was between you?
Was what was important then still important now?
Had you known then its true lack of importance would you have fought for it just as much, believing it was more important than it really was?
Listening is difficult. It requires effort and concentration. When you listen you have to hear, understand, analyse, form an opinion, formulate an answer whether you speak it or not, and act on what you have listened to.
Listening is more than just hearing. We hear many things in our daily life. The sound of the traffic outside, the dog barking or whatever other noises surround us.
But if as we drive we hear a noise from the engine, our brain changes gear to listening, analysing what the noise is and how to deal with it.
Our listening attention depends on who is doing the talking. How important they are. How relevant what they say is to your own priorites and well-being.
It is said that in a successful marriage one of the partners should be slightly deaf. Preferably the husband.
This is because, (so they say), wives tend to prattle on about this and that, what's been on TV, what the neighbour did, what the kids said about school, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the conversation is about tasks undone - taking the trash out, painting the spare room, mowing the lawn etc ... And the husband says, "Yes dear ..." and ignores what's being said. Especially if it interferes with football on the TV.
But if the wife says, "We need to talk ... (it always starts with this sentence) ... I want a divorce!" the husband suddenly listens up and takes his attention away from the TV or whatever he is doing. He knows this time it is serious and he should listen carefully.
We listen carefully depending on the seriousness of what is being said and who is saying it. Our partner, the boss, the doctor, the baby crying ... and so on.
But what if it is God speaking? How important is He? Is anyone listening?
A phrase used often by reporters on TV when interviewing someone is, "How do you feel ... ?"
A celebrity wins an Oscar or whatever other award and the reporter puts a microphone to their face and asks, "how are you feeling right now?"
Someone or other wins a prize on the lottery and they're over-excited and the reporter asks, "how are you feeling about this win?"
There's been a tragic disaster, people have been injured or killed, and the reporter asks a crying person, "how do you feel right now?"
I guess this obsession with peoples' feelings at different times in their lives, whether happy or sad, is to bring it home to us, the viewers, the very emotions that people are going through at the very moment that it happens. We share their joys, or sadness as we see them on the screen. For a moment perhaps we touch their very souls as they undergo the emotions of the moment.
OK ... let me try this on you. Here's the microphone in front of you and I'm expecting a quick response and reaction to the question.
"You are a Christian, what is your feeling about this?"
Are you ... Happy? Joyful? Glad? Nonplussed? Nonchalant? Blasé? Sad? Worried? Fearful? Other? What does being a Christian mean to us in this day and age? Is it something to be proud of? Something to hide and shy away from? Or just a label we use for convenience when someone asks, or when we are filling an application form or a census form or such like? Not long ago I ran a small discussion group in our church and we were discussing a Bible reading. I asked, "If someone with a microphone asked you in the street who was Jesus, what would you say?" The responses I got was, "He was a teacher, a wise man, a healer, He performed miracles, ... and so on." No one said, He was/is the Son of God. When I pointed this out they responded, "We don't say that sort of thing in public in this country. We don't talk like that about religion and things!" Now I may have been in a cocoon these past few years. Either comatose or completely sheltered from this world. But it was not ever so.
Time was when men took their hats off when entering a church, or when a funeral cortège passed by. Women used to cover their heads with a scarf or hat when in church. People used to kneel before taking a seat in the pews. Time was when being a Christian was a good thing. When I worked in London people there knew I was a Christian. I did not go around preaching to everyone or waving my hands in the air shouting "Praise the Lord!" Talking about religion and politics was strictly forbidden at work; but people knew I was a Christian. I was in business, made business decisions, tough ones at times that were not palatable or popular. Often my decisions were diametrically opposed to that of others. I fought my corner and lost friends as a result. I made mistakes ... many. And was most probably as good or as bad as everyone else. Once a colleague and I visited nearby St Paul's Cathedral at lunchtime. It was/is a tourist attraction and as we entered the huge building my friend waved his hand in the air, pointing to the ceiling and all around and said, "Tell me ... do you believe in all that?" I replied, "Yes ... as a matter of fact I do!" He said nothing. I hope that if the same scenario happened today I would reply the same way. I don't know. Pointing the microphone at myself I ask, "How do I feel about that?" How do you feel about that? More important ... How does God feel about that?
read bits from John Chapter 15, especially the bits I have marked in bold:
5I am the vine, and you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do
nothing without me.
7If you remain in me and my words remain in
you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.
10If you obey my commands, you will remain in
my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love.
16You did not choose me; I chose you and
appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so
the Father will give you whatever you ask of Him in my name.
was young, many years ago, and lived in London, I made many acquaintances with
well-to-do people. They were not friends as such, just acquaintances. People I
knew and met with often. I wonder where they all are now !!!
one such acquaintance said: "Let's go to my club."
club?" I thought, "I wonder what he means."
later we arrived at this very classy building with a man at the door wearing a
posh uniform. He saluted my friend by touching his cap, eyed me suspiciously,
and opened the door to let us in.
It was a
entered my feet sank into such luxurious carpets so thick that it was like
walking through a cloud of feathers. Above me were chandeliers so big and so
magnificent that they probably needed their own power stations to keep them
lit. Around me on the walls hung the most beautiful oil paintings I'd ever
seen, all originals, mostly portraits of old people in ancient type clothings.
No doubt patrons of this place from years gone by. There were also a variety of
full size marble statues; the kind you would find in a Roman or Greek temple or
palace. I didn't know who they were, but they looked as if they belonged to
these sumptuous surroundings.
entered a very large room with similar thickness of carpets and wall-to-wall
luxury. It was full of huge leather chairs placed in twos or threes around
tables scattered here and there. There were already some men there, sitting
quietly and reading their papers.
friend and I sat at a table. He asked me if I wanted a drink. "No point in
asking for a beer," I thought, "this place is far too posh to have
something as common as beer. Or indeed, someone as common as me. I do not
belong in this place!"
my friend what he'd suggest and he rattled a list of wines all with fancy
titles like "Chateaux Very Expensive" or "Chateaux Even More
Extravagantly Expensive". He suggested that if I'd prefer a brandy they
have a selection of Cognacs dating back several centuries and favourites of
princes and emperors from years gone by.
remember what I eventually had to drink; but I knew that I did not belong
there. Had I turned up to this place on my own, no doubt the doorkeeper, or
maître d’hôtel as my friend called him, would have stopped me getting in and
threw me in front of a passing taxi or bus. The only reason I was there, and
enjoying a luxurious drink at his expense I might add, was because I was with
him. He had the golden ticket to enter this oasis in a busy London, and he had
the right to bring in whoever he wants, including riff-raff like me.
think about it; it's the same about Heaven I suppose. We don't have a right to
be there. We're not really worthy. God has invited us all to His place if we
come with Jesus. "No one goes to the Father, except by me." John 14:6
Jesus says in the quotations above, if we remain in Him, we will bear much
fruit. We will be one with Him, His followers, His friends, under His
protection, and loved by Him.
twice He promises that if we remain in/with Him, we can ask anything in His
name and His Father will let us have it.
pray, "God, in the name of Jesus, I ask for ..." God will listen. He
will respond. And in His own time, and in His own way, our prayers will be
we stay side by side with Jesus, hand-in-hand throughout our life, no matter
how difficult it is sometimes; then one day we too will be welcome in Paradise.
Just because we are with Jesus.
I never quite understood what this phrase meant. Does it mean that if I think something is red and you think it is blue, then we agree that neither of us is right? Surely if the choice is binary, between two alternatives, then one of us is right and the other not.
History is full of examples of people not agreeing on something. Nations have often disagreed on various issues and at times the disagreements were such that they led to wars and much suffering and death. They did not say, "let us agree to disagree", when the subject matter was of such importance that it had to be resolved one way or another. It could not be left unresolved ... for ever.
I am sure all of us in our personal lives can recall instances when we had to decide one way or another, to be on one side or another, on an important matter which at the time challenged a hard-held principle or belief.
I half-heard this sentence, "let us agree to disagree", on the radio the other day as I was reading the Bible. And it set me thinking ...
Did Jesus at any time say to His disciples, His followers or listeners, "let us agree to disagree"?
I could not find an example. Perhaps you can. Write me about it if you do.
This train of thought led me to the Gospel of St John Chapter 6 where Jesus says He is
"the Bread of life" and later when He says that unless people eat His
flesh or drink His blood they will not have life.
As you can imagine, this was very confusing to His listeners; even His followers and disciples.
"What is He on about?" they asked. "How can we eat His flesh and drink
His blood? This is cannibalism surely. This is too much for us. We don't
want to follow this guy any longer!"
They got up and left. So what did Jesus do?
He didn't say "Hey ... wait a minute. You didn't understand what I
meant. This is what I really meant to say ... let me explain!"
After He explained it a second time, He did not say, "All right then ... let us agree to disagree!"
No ... Jesus let them go. He didn't try to justify Himself or what He
had just said. It was as if He dissolved the unspoken contract between
them. They could not accept a certain clause so He let them go.
Then He turned to His disciples and asked, "How about you? Do you want to go as well?"
As ever, Peter was first to answer, "To whom shall we go?" he asked.
"We're in this for the duration, all the way, to the end". Or words to
that effect, signifying that he trusted Jesus without question; albeit no
doubt he had many questions in his mind. Peter accepted Christ's words
without question and stepped out in blind Faith and dared to believe.
This particular Chapter in the Bible has been the cause of much debates, and arguments, amongst Christians for centuries. No doubt it will continue to be so.
The reality is, in my view, we will never understand what Christ meant by these words. Not until we meet Him face to face that is.
But God never asked us to understand Him. Only to trust Him and believe.
You have died ... and you find yourself in Heaven's Reception Room.
There, sitting at the computer is Saint Peter searching for your details
and information. Standing behind him is a figure pointing at you.
You look carefully and, despite the shroud covering the figure, you
recognise who it is; and your heart misses a beat and sinks to your
There pointing at you is your arch-enemy. You did not even know the
person is dead. You had an almighty argument years ago and you parted
company the greatest of enemies. You have never met since. What is that
person doing here and pointing at you accusingly.
Saint Peter looks up from his computer and says: "Meet my assistant. You two have not met for sometime!"
Your heart misses another beat and sinks even lower to your feet. If
your arch-enemy is here there's no point in going on with the
preliminaries of reception to this place. He will have told Saint Peter all about you. You might as well go down
without a parachute.
"My assistant has something to tell you," continues Saint Peter.
Your arch-enemy speaks. "I am so sorry I have hurt you. I never sought forgiveness nor cared much for it. Please forgive me."
There's a lump in your throat. Your heart gives up in despair unable to go any lower.
Saint Peter explains. "My assistant here had an opportunity to examine
his conscience before he died. He deeply regretted the way he lived and
asked God's forgiveness. That's why he is here. When he heard of your
arrival he asked if he could seek your forgiveness too. Welcome to
MORAL OF THE STORY:
If you have wronged someone, seek
forgiveness now. You may not get the opportunity before you die. And you
may not meet again in the other life. That is unless you both meet at a
place where it does not matter whether we forgive or not!
Even though the case was now closed, as one would say, with the parrot returned and no one searching for any formula, as it were; I was still curious. At the back of my mind I still wanted to know what François Bordeaux had invented or discovered that was so precious to lead people to crime.
I wrote to Morag McTavish, Bordeaux's ex-housekeeper, and a few weeks later I took some time off work and I took the family to Edinburgh on holiday.
Have you been to Edinburgh, or to Scotland generally? I can really recommend it so beautiful it is.
Anyway, I left the family in Edinburgh and I travelled to Oban. It's a small sea side town in the North West of Scotland where Mrs McTavish lives.
Oh what a beautiful and peaceful place it is. It's so wonderful to stand there by the seaside and wash all your troubles away. If I had the choice, and could do it, I would leave my busy job in London and come and live here in Oban. I understand it has Scotland's smallest distillery which was built in 1794.
As I left the railway station I had some time to kill so I bought a local map and headed for the Cathedral Church of Saint Columba where I spent some time in prayer thanking God for being with me all the way.
What a journey and adventure I had been through these past few weeks. It all started with me hearing the cry for help from Mrs Scrivener's parrot and entering the house. I could have passed by like those two people in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But I chose to answer the call.
Was I stupid and reckless? I could have got into a lot of trouble. What if the burly man had attacked me? What if the police had suspected me of stealing the parrot? What if my wife and family had asked me not to get involved? What if my boss had lost patience with me being late for work and fired me? What if ... what if ... what if ...
What if Eunice Murgatroid had not been constipated? What has that got to do with it?
I left church and went to Morag McTavish's house.
She opened the door and welcomed me in. A small lovely woman in her early sixties I would say.
"Och aye ..." she said, "I been expectin ye. Welcome to Oban. Would ye be havin a wee dram of whisky to keep out the cold? It is from here in Oban. Best whisky in Scotland I would say!"
She was right. It was a very nice whisky indeed.
"Have been preparin somewhat to eat, would ye be joinin me?" she continued, "best haggis and black puddin in the world, with bacon and sausages and eggs. Also Scotch mutton pie. It'll grow hair on ye chest ye ken! It's a late breakfast one might say. But who cares? I live alone and I eat wha' I want when I want. Nae problem. Whit's fur ye'll no go past ye."
I smiled and sat down at table with her.
"And there'll be black bun for after with a nice cuppa tea and toasties with marmalade from Dundee!"
For those who don't know it, black bun is a fruit cake
completely covered with pastry. The cake mixture
is a combination of raisins, currants, almonds, citrus peel, allspice,
ginger, cinnamon and, would you believe, black pepper.
It was a meal, or late breakfast fit for a king. I was astounded at her kindness and generosity to someone she had never met.
I offered, as politely and as tactfully as I could, to contribute to this sumptuous meal. Perhaps by making a financial donation, or taking her out for a meal that very evening.
"Awa' an bile yer heid!" she said with a laugh. Which literally translated means go boil your head, but actually means, forget it ... don't mention it ... in this case meaning thank you, but you're welcome to what I have to offer.
"Yer bum's oot the windae!" she laughed loudly and heartily. I wondered why she thought my backside was out of the window but she explained that it meant I was talking nonsense by offering to pay for the meal.
I asked her if she knew what François Bordeaux was working on in his retirement as a scientist.
"Och aye ..." she said, "he always worked in his laboratory mixing this liquid with that and talkin to imself! I asked him once why he dinnae relax in his retirement and took it easy. He said he was on the brink of inventin somethin that would revolutionise the world"
"Do you know what it was?" I asked.
"Aye ..." she replied, "he said he'd invented the cure to male baldness. A grey cream it was. He even tried on himself!"
"Aye he did ..." she continued, "he showed me ... he looked for a place on his body where no hair grows. Like the bottom of his feet. He put some cream on it. Just a little. The left foot it was. After a week or so black hairs began to grow. He then put a tiny drop on the palm of his left hand. Right in the middle. Agin black hairs grew after a few days. And they continued to grow. So he put a tiny bit on his head. Just a centimetre area. He was bald at the top. And yet agin black hairs grew, even though his own hairs were grey ... white like!"
"That's amazing" I said enthusiastically, "what did he plan to do with this cream?"
"He said he were goin to sell the formula to some company to produce it and make him rich. I never believed it. I asked him if he were goin to write it on paper like. And he said ... naye ... a formula like this is best kept in the head!"
"That's very interesting," I said to encourage her to keep talking, "tell me Morag, is it OK to call you Morag? Tell me, did François Bordeaux have a parrot do you know?"
"Och aye ..." she laughed, "he was obsessed with his red parrot. He called him Archibald. Meaning genuinely bald ... ye ken. That's what he told me any road. He called him the Third because the other two he had died. He was as mad as a box of frogs, Professor Bordeaux was. But a braw man nonetheless!
"I once caught him tryin to hypnotise the bird. He sat there in front of it swinging his pocket watch on a chain and sayin ... ye gettin sleepy ... eyelids gettin heavy ... very heavy ... sleepy ...
"I laughed so hard in secret that I pissed maeself. What a stupid man ... hypnotisin a daft bird that didnae know todae from tomorrae ..."
"What happened next?" I nodded.
"Well ... I heard him talkin gobbledygook to the bird ... things like 5 milligrammes somethin or other ... 2.5% dilution in some long word I never heard before ... temperature something degrees Celsius ... incubation period ... he also mentioned algae something or other and pig's excrement. He kept it in the garage, the pig's poo. Put me off me black puddin it did! He kept repeatin all these things to the parrot over and over again.
"I tell ye, I was out in the corridor out of sight hearin him ... and I laughed and laughed so much I pissed maeself till mae underpants were drenched. I wanted to change them but I had none with me. So I took them off and went without all that day! I tell ye ... it was cold that day down South with no underpants on. But it were worth it all the laughin I had done! Have ye ever worn a kilt and nothin underneath? It's really cold fer yer danglin bits, I tell ye!
"I was careful mind that day when we were in his library and he asked me to get up the ladder and get him the books from the top shelves. He always asked me to go up the ladder. He feared heights, ye ken! With me havin no underpants on ... I went up the ladder and he held it fer me. I didnae want him to look up mae skirt and see mae backside! What a shock that would be fer the wee man! Seeing the moon in full daylight! That would have made hair grow where he had none."
She laughed heartily for a moment or two and then continued.
"Ironic really ... he had a mortal fear of heights ... what possessed the mad person to go up the roof on his ladder? Nae wonder he fell to his death poor man. I liked him dearly. He were kind and gentle. When he died some solicitors paid me handsomely and I came here!"
"Yes, his death was very tragic," I said, "tell me Morag, whatever happened to his cream? Did he have any left over somewhere in his lab perhaps?"
"How should I know ..." she shrugged her shoulders, "after I left I was told by the solicitors that all the contents that were in the house were sold as well as the house. Any pots of cream or various liquids and stuff he had was probably thrown away as rubbish ... trash ... who would want to buy a grey cream they know nothing what it's for?"
I bit my lip in silence and thought ... if only ... if only ...
"One last thing, Morag," I asked, "did you ever hear the parrot, Archibald the Third, talk?"
"Och aye ..." she said, "talked all the time non-stop. Talked like a parrot. Singin too. Am Archibald the Third I am. Yes I am. I am. I am. Am Archibald the Third I am. I am. I am. I am. I am ...
"To the tune of that song I am Henry the Eight I am. By Herman's Hermits it were.
"He also said many rude things that the professor taught him as a joke like ... Show us ye knickers ... meaning underpants ... or ... were ye born with this nose or did ye pick it yerself? ... also ... and from whose nose were ye picked then? and ... were ye born annoying or were ye educated at college this way?
"One day the vicar came to visit ... may he rest in peace ... and the parrot said to him ... ye're boring man ... wouldn't wanta spend eternity with ye in Heaven!"
"The reason I ask," I said, "is that the present owner of the bird, Archibald, said that she has never heard him speak in the three years she had him!"
"Aye ... that's true," said Morag, "from the day I saw the professor hypnotise the bird ... he never spoke a word. For at least six months or more I was there after he hypnotised the parrot, and he didnae speak one word. Then the professor died, and the bird was sold and I left. So it is possible he does nae talk at all. Maybe he took a vow of silence ... like them hermits ..." she laughed heartily again.
On my way back to Edinburgh on the train I could not help wandering about everything I had just learnt from Morag McTavish.
Can you imagine? Somewhere in the past three years someone in Cambridge discovered the cure to male baldness. What a discovery that would have made! No wonder the director of that firm was so eager to get his hands on the formula. Instead, the formula is imprinted in the bird brain of a dumb parrot.
And no wonder he can't talk. He needs the professor to hypnotise him again and unlock his brain from its silence.
Unless ... unless ... one day he might talk again all by itself. After all, I did hear him talk. I did not imagine it.
But some good has come out of all this. Veronique and Mrs Scrivener became great friends and visited each other often. We too as a family became friends and went up to the mansion often. Eventually, and very slowly, Veronique started visiting our church on Sundays, and has started getting involved in church activities.
I even understand she has been seen a few times with a young man her age.
This story is dedicated to a scientist I once knew. Even though he was retired he continued writing scientific papers, give various talks, and spent his spare time experimenting on this and that.
FOOTNOTE: As you know, dear readers, this story has been written "live" over a period of eleven days. I wrote one episode each day and set myself a target and discipline to write the next episode within hours. I did not know from day to day how the story would develop. But your support and encouragement by visiting me each day here, and some of you commenting, has kept me going. I hope you have enjoyed this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I thank you for all your kindness and generosity.
Perhaps I shall get these eleven posts published as a story in book form. I'll try to keep the price as low as possible. Hopefully you'll buy a souvenir copy.